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Mater Dei girls basketball clamps down on Sage Hill, advances in regional playoffs

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SANTA ANA — One of the alluring qualities for the Mater Dei-Sage Hill girls basketball clash Wednesday night was its setting in the CIF Southern California Regional playoffs. Monarchs coach Kevin Kiernan saw another selling point, too.

“I told the kids tonight this was the Orange County CIF champion,”  Kiernan said. “I don’t know if we get a ring for it but this was for the Orange County CIF championship.”

Mater Dei earned local bragging rights for another year.

Mater Dei forward Kaeli Wynn, center, celebrates with teammates Caia...

Mater Dei forward Kaeli Wynn, center, celebrates with teammates Caia Elisaldez, left, and Addison Deal, right, as they win the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs against Sage Hill in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Sage Hill guard Emily Eadie, center, passes the ball to...

Sage Hill guard Emily Eadie, center, passes the ball to a teammate as Mater Dei forward Kaeli Wynn applies pressure in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei guard Addison Deal, moves around a Sage Hill...

Mater Dei guard Addison Deal, moves around a Sage Hill defender to put up a shot in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei players cheer as their teammates score a basket...

Mater Dei players cheer as their teammates score a basket against Sage Hill in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Sage Hill guard Annabelle Spotts, center, is able to get...

Sage Hill guard Annabelle Spotts, center, is able to get in front of Mater Dei guard Caia Elisaldez, right, to put up a shot in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei guard Caia Elisaldez, right, is able to slap...

Mater Dei guard Caia Elisaldez, right, is able to slap the ball away from Sage Hill guard Kat Righeimer in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei guard Caia Elisaldez puts up a jump shot...

Mater Dei guard Caia Elisaldez puts up a jump shot over
Sage Hill guard Emily Eadie in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei guard Amaya Williams takes a jump shot against...

Mater Dei guard Amaya Williams takes a jump shot against Sage Hill in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei guard Caia Elisaldez, left, drives the ball as...

Mater Dei guard Caia Elisaldez, left, drives the ball as Sage Hill guard Zoie Lamkin, right tries to keep up in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Sage Hill guard Amalia Holguin stays in bounds as she...

Sage Hill guard Amalia Holguin stays in bounds as she drives the ball along the sideline against Mater Dei in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Sage Hill guard Emily Eadie, left, can’t get around Mater...

Sage Hill guard Emily Eadie, left, can’t get around Mater Dei forward Jenessa Cotton as she tries to get to the basket in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei forward Jenessa Cotton, left, reaches for a rebound...

Mater Dei forward Jenessa Cotton, left, reaches for a rebound in front of Sage Hill guard Kat Righeimer, center, in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei forward Jenessa Cotton, center, and Sage Hill guard...

Mater Dei forward Jenessa Cotton, center, and Sage Hill guard Amalia Holguin, right, go after a loose ball in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Sage Hill guard Amalia Holguin, right, drives past Mater Dei...

Sage Hill guard Amalia Holguin, right, drives past Mater Dei guard Amaya Williams, left, as she makes a move toward the basket in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Sage Hill guard Emily Eadie isn’t able to control a...

Sage Hill guard Emily Eadie isn’t able to control a rebound against Mater Dei in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Mater Dei guard Amaya Williamsk, left, and Sage Hill guard...

Mater Dei guard Amaya Williamsk, left, and Sage Hill guard Amalia Holguin collide as they try to grab a rebound in the first round of the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Playoffs in Santa Ana on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

The Monarchs, ranked No. 1 in the county, introduced a wrinkle to their pressing defense to slow down the No. 2 Lightning en route to a 59-44 victory in the first round of the Open Division playoffs, earning a trip Saturday to juggernaut Sierra Canyon in the semifinals.

The Trailblazers (30-0), ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps, received a first-round bye after claiming the CIF-SS Open Division title against Etiwanda at the Honda Center on Saturday.

“We’re going to go take a swing,” Kiernan said of facing USC-bound Juju Watkins and Sierra Canyon. “It’s going to be a big challenge but you get to do it. That’s a big thing for us here. At a place like Mater Dei, we want to play those guys. It’s a big game and we want to be in it.”

Mater Dei (29-3) finished 12-0 in against Orange County opponents this season, including 2-0 against Sage Hill (21-10), the reigning state Division II champion.

The Monarchs beat the Lightning 62-50 in mid-December when Sage Hill was without Annabelle Spotts. The junior forward was back Wednesday, scoring 12 points, but so was the Mater Dei defense.

The Monarchs switched between a three-quarter of the court and a full-court press and adjusted where they trapped on the floor. The result was more contested shots and holding the Lightning to seven points in the fourth period.

“And we just gave it our all. We went hard the whole time,” said Mater Dei sophomore Addison Deal, who scored a team-high 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “Pushing the (trap) back a little definitely made them panic more. They couldn’t really move as far forward, so I think that really impacted the game.”

Deal also helped the Monarchs’ offense land the knockout in the middle of the fourth period. She grabbed a rebound and raced for a layup for a 50-40 lead, Mater Dei’s largest at that point.

Deal then answered a Sage Hill basket with a slick pass off a drive into the key to post Jenessa Cotton for another layup.

Mater Dei freshman Kaeli Wynn highlighted the fourth with one of the biggest defensive plays. The forward blocked a shot and grabbed the rebound in a sequence that eventually led to her 3-pointer, which gave the Monarchs a 55-42 lead with 1:23 left. Deal recorded the assist.

“I said (to Wynn), ‘Best play you’ve made all year,’ ” Kiernan said of the block.

Sage Hill trimmed a nine-point Mater Dei lead to two on a 3-pointer by Amalia Holguin (13 points). The freshman sank another 3-pointer to open the fourth to cut the Monarchs’ lead to 44-40 but Mater Dei pulled away with its defense, rebounding and depth.

Mater Dei’s bench, which included Wynn, Amaya Williams, Isabel Clark and Emily Shaw, outscored the Lightning bench 18-0.

“Mater Dei is the standard in Orange County, and is the standard for a lot of the state,” Sage Hill coach Kerwin Walters said. “We’re going to test that resolve with everyone next year.”

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